Indian govt accused of ignoring religious violence

US commission says nation's multicultural history is under threat as nationalists push for a Hindu-only state
Indian govt accused of ignoring religious violence

Dalits pledge not to skin cattle during a protest rally in Ahmedabad in July 2016 against an attack on their caste members by cow protectors in Gujarat. (Photo by Sam Panthaky/AFP)

The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom has accused the Indian government of doing little to prevent violence against religious minorities and socially poor Dalit people.

The commission's latest report, released April 25, said the government run by the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has not addressed the problem of sectarian violence despite government statistics showing that sectarian violence has increased sharply over the past two years.

It categorized India in its Tier 2 countries along with Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Cuba, Egypt, Indonesia, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Laos, Malaysia and Turkey. 

Tier 2 countries are those with at least one of the elements of the "systematic, ongoing and egregious" standard in a set of criteria the commission uses to gauge violations of religious freedom.

Ten countries including Pakistan are in the worst category.

The report noted that at least 10 Indians were lynched by Hindu groups in the name of cow protection.

"In 2017, religious freedom conditions continued a downward trend in India. India's history as a multicultural and multi-religious society remained threatened by an increasing exclusionary conception of national identity based on religion," the report said.

Hindu nationalist groups working to turn India into a Hindu-only nation stepped up their actions through violence, intimidation and harassment against non-Hindus and Hindu Dalit people. Both public and private actors pursued this effort, the report said.

About one third of state governments enforced "anti-conversion and/or anti-cow slaughter laws against non-Hindus, and mobs engaged in violence against Muslims or Dalits whose families have been engaged in the dairy, leather or beef trades for generations, and against Christians for proselytizing," stated the report.

A major reason for the poor rating was the strengthening of nationalist Hindu forces in an otherwise secular country, leading to a rise in vigilantism and violence against minority communities, particularly Muslims and Christians.

Even government records, presented on Feb. 6 in parliament, show increased sectarian violence. In 2017, 111 persons were killed and at least 2,384 injured in 822 communal clashes across the country.

In 2016, 86 persons were killed and 2,321 injured in 703 incidents.  In 2015, there were 751 incidents. 

Bishop Theodore Mascarenhas, secretary-general of the Indian Catholic bishops' conference, told ucanews.com that atrocities against religious minorities continue unabated. He cited a recent case of two Christian pastors being forcefully taken to a temple and having ash applied to their foreheads as a sign of accepting the Hindu religion.

"What makes matters worse is that those that were once called fringe groups are increasingly become emboldened as those in power do not speak against the mobocracy," the bishop said.

Hindu attacks against Christians doubled in 2017 from the previous year, according to the 2018 annual report of Persecution Relief, an ecumenical forum that records Christian persecution in India. The country recorded 736 incidents of attacks against Christians in 2017, up from 348 in 2016, it said.

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Ghulam Ahmad Mir, leader of the opposition Congress party in India's Jammu and Kashmir state, said it was a worrying situation because of the impunity enjoyed by members of Hindu groups.

"Those involved in the heinous crimes of lynching roam scot-free and the government hasn't taken a single move since coming to power in 2014 to punish the culprits," he told ucanews.com.

The Indian government has rejected the findings of the U.S. commission.

"The report appears to be based on limited understanding of India, its constitution and its society. We take no cognizance of the report," External Affairs Ministry spokesman Vikas Swarup told reporters in New Delhi. 

Hindus form 966 million or 80 percent of India's population of 1.3 billion. Muslims account for 172 million or 14 percent while Christians comprise 29 million or 2.3 percent.

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